Raging Against the Machine

A young parliamentarian fights for the ideals of the Pashtun Spring

The PTM leaders Mohsin Dawar (left) and Ali Wazir (right) were both elected to Pakistan’s National Assembly in 2018. A year later, they were imprisoned following the Kharqamar killings. aamir qureshi / afp / getty images
01 November, 2020

Mohsin Dawar began writing in 2016. His first article, written on the encouragement of an academic friend, was about the new social contract being offered to internally displaced people returning to Waziristan, part of the Pashtun heartland of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, after the Pakistan army successfully concluded operations against militant groups in the region. Dawar had led the Awami National Party’s humanitarian efforts among the IDPs over the past three years, raising money, distributing rations and establishing a school. Now, in his writings and speeches, he raised a number of issues faced by the returnees, including the army’s demolition of thousands of shops in his hometown of Miranshah.

Dawar’s great-grandfather had been close to the pre-Independence Pashtun leader Abdul Ghaffar Khan, whose son founded the ANP. While attending Gomal University, Dawar was president of the Pashtun Students’ Federation, the ANP’s student wing. He also co-founded its youth wing, the National Youth Organisation. However, his public anti-military positions began to annoy ANP leaders, especially those looking to avoid confrontation with Pakistan’s military establishment. “The party leadership was told that this person was creating trouble,” Dawar told me. “Afsandyar Wali”—the ANP president—“was very upset.” This annoyance only grew as Dawar became one of the most prominent leaders of a popular movement articulating the aspirations of Pakistan’s second-largest ethnic group.

In the spring of 2017, Mashal Khan, a Pashtun student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, was lynched on campus. “I was horrified when I heard of this incident,” Dawar said. After failed attempts to contact PSF leaders, he issued a call for protests on behalf of the NYO. “Initially, the ANP was hesitant about taking a position on this issue, but I argued that if they did not speak up, they would damage their own narrative. It was the anger of the NYO activists that compelled the party to come out strongly against the killing.”

Following the extrajudicial killing of 27-year-old Naqeebullah Mehsud by the Karachi police, in January 2018, Dawar was instrumental in getting the ANP to join nationwide protests. The NYO organised a massive demonstration in Karachi. A jirga called by the Mehsud tribe, attended by senior ANP leaders, decided to organise a long march from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the national capital, Islamabad, under the umbrella of the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement. When the protesters reached the town of Swabi, however. the entire outlook of the movement changed.